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To Charge or Not to Charge?

September 13, 2011

To Charge or Not to Charge?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

“Just charge it.”

I'm willing to bet that you’ve been in a store and heard that phrase. Even if you haven't, you’ve probably been bombarded with letters asking you if you'd like to lower your interest rates, encountered representatives hawking credit cards (and complimentary t-shirts!) on the quad or heard of people who have racked up thousands of dollars in debt from recklessly swiping their plastic.

While handling a credit card involves a lot of responsibility, the good news is that it comes with plenty of perks as well. Citibank, for example, offers a Visa card just for college students and has a system of reward points to boot. Depending on your GPA, you can earn anywhere from 250 to 2,000 ThankYou Points just for doing well in your classes. You also get points for making your payments on time, which is a great incentive not to skip payments or only pay the minimum and accrue unnecessary interest penalties. You even earn five times as many points at restaurants, bookstores and more. So, while textbooks aren't exactly cheap, just remember that you're being partially reimbursed every time you use your credit card to buy them.

In a larger sense, using a credit card responsibly also helps students to establishing a good credit score. The higher this number is, the better your chances are of being accepted for a loan on your dream car or house. Lenders will see that you are not a liability and will be more likely to provide you with the funds needed to reach your goals.

If you're still not sold on getting a credit card, that's okay. There's plenty of time to establish credit after college. For those of you considering a credit card, though, just remember to spend responsibly and make your payments as promptly as possible.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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The Best Educational Apps

September 6, 2011

The Best Educational Apps

by Lisa Lowdermilk

We've all seen the iPhone commercials and heard the now-common phrase “There's an app for that.” It’s true, though: There's even an application to help you study — dozens in fact! Here are a few that can make your life as a student easier:

Grades 2. If you're like me, you spend a fair amount of time wondering what you need to score on an upcoming test in order to maintain your A. This app lets you do just that. It even lets you determine your new GPA will be based on what grades you expect to earn in your current classes.

Dictionary.com Flashcards. This app is great for English and science classes where you have to learn a wide variety of complicated terms. It even has multiple choice quizzes where you have to pick the right definition from a list of options. Plus, it's great having a dictionary in your pocket for whenever you need to look up words instead of lugging one around on top of all your other school books.

Star and Planet Finder. Astronomy buffs will love this one because it makes finding stars, planets, constellations and satellites a snap. Equipped with compass and GPS, this app lets you know whether or not you can see Orion from your current location – perfect for astronomy classes which ask you to chart the position of the constellations.

While not every college student can afford an iPhone or similar app-friendly device, all these educational apps make it a very tempting purchase indeed. And let's face it: You can't really put a price on something that makes a less-than-favorite activity less painful.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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Cool (and Helpful) Study Gadgets

August 29, 2011

Cool (and Helpful) Study Gadgets

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Now that summer is coming to an end and the fall semester is underway, you might be wondering if there's anything you can do to make studying for your classes easier. While money can't buy everything, it can buy you a couple of cool study-related gadgets.

First off are smartpens like the Livescribe Echo. These babies let you record entire lectures and go straight to a specific portion just by tapping a word from your notes! Just think how much easier your life would be if you could actually focus on listening to the lecture the first time around instead of frantically scribbling notes to make sure you don't miss anything.

If you're like me and find music helps you concentrate while studying, consider buying a pair of noise-canceling headphones or earbuds. How many times have you been forced to study in a crowded room and don't have access to somewhere quieter? If the answer is “Too many,” invest in a pair immediately. Even if you don't listen to music while studying, you can use the device to replay a lecture or listen to a study aid you found online.

Finally, if you've ever copied a passage from a book word-for-word into your notes and ended up with a cramped hand, the portable wand scanner is for you. Not only does this snazzy gadget prevent you from having to lug a scanner to class, it's pretty easy to use: All you do is wave it over the page you want and hook it up to your computer using a USB cable. Just like magic, everything you scanned is now on your computer! The VuPoint Solutions Magic Wand is even compatible with SD cards – ta da!

So, while the Studybot has yet to be invented to do all your studying for you, these gadgets can make studying a lot less painful.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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What’s Your Professor's GPA?

August 18, 2011

What’s Your Professor's GPA?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

When I'm getting ready to start a new semester, one of my first thoughts is “What should I expect from my teachers?” Are they going to be nitpicky or are they going to grade most of my assignments on effort?

Obviously, most teachers are somewhere in between these extremes. Regardless, sites like RateMyProfessors.com and ProfessorPerformance.com can be helpful in determining what your teachers will be like. RateMyProfessors.com, for example, lets students rank teachers in several categories, including easiness, clarity and helpfulness. Unsurprisingly, teachers who are more lenient when it comes to grading tend to rank higher than those who dock you for forgetting to dot your i’s and cross your t's. After all, most students prefer classes where they get an A without much effort to ones where they barely scrape by with a C.

That's why it's crucial to take everything you read on professor rating sites with a grain of salt. Remember, these reviews are just other students' opinions. At the same time, though, I do think students should be allowed to express their opinions if (and only if) their comments are informative and provide constructive criticism rather than outright flaming. It's not surprising that many professors are against these sites – some students criticize irrelevant details, such as the way their professor dressed – but fortunately, off-topic or hurtful comments are few and far between and the majority of ratings on RateMyProfessors.com are positive. As such, these sites can be a valuable tool for prospective students if used in the way they were intended: to provide an informed opinion.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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There's a Club for That, Too!

August 12, 2011

There's a Club for That, Too!

by Lisa Lowdermilk

So, you're getting ready to start another school year and are looking for a way to make your college experience more rewarding. You know you can join clubs but none of the traditional ones pique your interest...until one – The Squirrel Club – practically jumps off the page. Hold on...there's a club for that? As it turns out, there are dozens more clubs on the list that you didn't even know existed!

Colleges have all sorts of clubs for you to choose from, some of which are a bit weird to say the least. In addition to the aforementioned Squirrel Club, there's also the Concrete Canoe Club and the Campus People Watchers Club. Here’s some info on each.

The Squirrel Club at the University of Michigan has members come together to feed peanuts to squirrels and discuss ways to protect the welfare of the furry-tailed critters. The club has more than 400 members and continues to expand each school year.

The Concrete Canoe Club at the University of Wisconsin is an engineering major's dream. The ultimate test of members' canoe building prowess comes in the form of an annual race which took place in Evansville, Indiana this past June. I never would have believed it possible for concrete to float until I heard about this club!

Campus People Watchers at the University of Minnesota is for the more observant students on campus. Members literally observe the habits of people on campus, report their findings on various subcultures and even analyze people from a psychological perspective. For such a seemingly unorthodox club, Campus People Watchers is surprisingly structured and educational. Just remember this club does not give you permission to stalk other students. Save that for Facebook.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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Not-Your-Average Application Essay Prompts

August 5, 2011

Not-Your-Average Application Essay Prompts

by Lisa Lowdermilk

So, you have your heart set on one college and you're about to write your application essay. The prompt is “If you could balance on a tightrope, over what landscape would you walk?” Wait...what? Believe it or not, this really is a prompt from the University of Chicago, an institution famous for strange essay prompts designed to make the process of applying to college less painful.

Of course, strange questions like UChicago's may have the opposite effect – a more stressful application process – on some people. C’mon, how many of us have really given thought to what landscape we'd like to walk over when balancing on a tightrope? I know I haven't and I doubt anyone who’s afraid of heights has ever or will ever consider the answer, either, but the point of this question is to show just how unique you really are. Colleges receive thousands of applications from hopeful students each year and it stands to reason that reading that many essays on a less interesting topic gets pretty tedious.

That's why questions like UChicago’s are so useful: They force applicants to come up with a unique answer. Are you thinking about majoring in oceanography? If so, you might say that nothing would calm your nerves like walking over the coastline and hearing the sound of the waves lapping at the shore. Are you more of a bookworm considering a major in library science? Maybe walking over stacks of books and thinking about how your favorite characters had to face trials even worse than walking a tightrope would help you keep your balance.

Since no two essays on such weird prompts as the one listed above will be the same – and if they are, you’ve got some explaining to do! – you might as well take advantage of your opportunity to shine!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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How Do YOU Study?

July 29, 2011

How Do YOU Study?

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Have you ever thought about how to make studying less painful or have you just resigned yourself to pulling all-nighters? If you're like me, the idea of all-nighters makes you cringe – how can you expect to ace your test when you're exhausted, let alone absorb pages of complicated course material?

I've had friends, though, who claim that being under pressure motivates them to study like nothing else. If you've honestly found that pulling all-nighters is more effective than studying during the day, then more power to you; for the rest of us, here are some strange but effective study habits to consider next time you have an exam approaching.

Do you have a specific study spot or can you study anywhere? If you're the former, try to pay attention to what characteristics you need in order to be successful. Does soaking up the sun's rays kick your brain into gear like a plant undergoing photosynthesis or does the sunshine just make you daydream? Do you need to constantly change the location of where you study to keep yourself motivated? I have a friend who never studies in the same place for more than an hour because her attention span starts waning.

It seems everyone has an opinion about background noise while studying. Another friend of mine claims she cannot study unless the news is on the background, as it bores her to tears. The news is so boring to her, in fact, that she claims it actually forces her to focus on her course material! Apparently, if she doesn't have the news on, she'll constantly think about other things like what she wants for dinner, what she wants to do on the weekend, etc.

Regardless of whether you can't sit still for more than an hour or need some white noise to get your brain in sync with your textbooks, one thing's for sure: You can't get through college without studying so you might as well make it as tolerable as possible.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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Utilizing Your College’s Resources Effectively

June 14, 2011

Utilizing Your College’s Resources Effectively

by Lisa Lowdermilk

Do you ever feel frustrated or overwhelmed with the amount of homework you have? Is it impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel? There are all kinds of resources at your college which can help!

If you're having trouble writing an essay or just want someone to look over your work, the writing lab is there for you. Writing lab tutors are trained to help you with everything from grammar and punctuation to strengthening your argument. They can even help you get started if you feel like you're having a case of the dreaded writer's block.

As the name suggests, math lab tutors can help you with all levels of math. I've even heard of students coming in to learn how to use their graphing calculators. Even as an online student, I have access to the writing lab, math lab and all kinds of services designed to give me feedback from the comforts of my own home.

So many students are reluctant to ask for help because they are worried it will make them seem unintelligent. Don't worry: Asking questions shows that you are conscientious, determined and hard-working. Teachers appreciate students who are curious enough about the material to ask questions.

Even though going to the writing lab or math lab requires you to spend time on your coursework outside of class, you’ll generally be able to schedule one-on-one appointments with tutors to ensure you get the help you need. In my experience, hardly anyone ever came to math lab or writing lab, giving me plenty of opportunities to ask all the questions I wanted.

The best part about these resources is that they're free! You're already paying for college, so why not take advantage of something that won't dip into your savings for a change?

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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Why Liberal Arts Degrees ARE Useful

June 10, 2011

Why Liberal Arts Degrees ARE Useful

by Lisa Lowdermilk

With majors like engineering, computer science and nursing, there may not seem to be a whole lot of room for generalized majors like liberal arts. All of the aforementioned majors train you for a very specific field, whereas liberal arts degrees (which include philosophy, literature and history) don’t, making “What are you going to do with your degree?” one of the most common questions liberal arts majors are asked.

While it's true that the broadness of liberal arts degrees can make finding a job difficult, this broadness also presents more opportunities than many other degrees. According to the University of California at Davis, the skill most valued by employers is the ability to communicate effectively. This is to a liberal arts major's advantage, as their classes require a lot of writing, critical thinking and listening – all of which are crucial to effective communication. Along this same line, technologically-driven communication like texting and IMing has made our society increasingly reliant on “chat speak” and its disregard for grammar, punctuation, etc. Some people worry decent writers are becoming scarce but liberal arts degree holders lay these fears to rest.

Additionally, liberal arts majors are creative individuals. They’ve been forced to draw connections between seemingly unrelated ideas and translate abstract information into concrete, easily understandable ideas. In today's ever-changing business world, problem solvers and innovators – two traits often held by liberal arts majors – are extremely valuable.

In sum, if you decide to major in a liberal arts field and worry you’ll lack the training for more specialized jobs, you can make up for it in your ability to think outside the box.

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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Jobs That Didn't Exist Until Recently

June 7, 2011

Jobs That Didn't Exist Until Recently

by Lisa Lowdermilk

In today's technologically-evolving society, nothing is set in stone. Jobs that weren't even imaginable until the latter half of the 20th century (think: bloggers, computer programmers and web designers) have sprung up in droves. The rise of such fields has created many more degrees, leaving college students with more majors than ever to choose from.

One of these degrees is nursing informatics, which requires knowledge of – surprise! – nursing, information science and computer science. Another example is web programming, which teaches students how to program websites that are informative, unique and don't give their users the dreaded 404 error message. A third example is human computer interaction (HCI), which focuses on how technology affects both societies and individuals.

In all three of these fields, the added technological component means today's college students must devote more time learning than their predecessors. But don't be discouraged: Technology has made it easier than ever for nurses to diagnose patients, provide them with the treatment they need, access information relating to the patients’ medical histories and monitor their conditions. Additionally, web programming enables information to be distributed much more widely than print-restricted media, such as books, brochures and magazines. And HCI specialists analyze the interaction between humans and computers, so that every user's virtual experience is as painless and rewarding as possible.

Since our society continues to evolve by leaps and bounds technologically, there may be many more degrees available in the next few years that we haven’t even thought of yet. While some people may lament the loss of jobs to technology, just remember that many more have cropped up to take their places – a fact job seekers are more than happy to hear!

Lisa Lowdermilk is a published poet, avid video gamer and artist. Her poems have appeared in Celebrate Young Poets: West (Fall 2006) edition and Widener University's The Blue Route. She enjoys watching thrillers, trying different restaurants and attempting to breakdance. Lisa is now majoring in professional writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

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